Elementary, my dear Watson

Even though I love reading—I do watch my fair share of television. One of my favorite shows is Elementary. What’s not to like: Sherlock Holmes, Lucy Liu and murder mystery all in one neat package. But what I like most about it is that at least once per episode I have to look up a word Sherlock uses. The man is British you see, with a vast vocabulary. But then, it’s a TV show, so it’s possible the screen-writers are assisting.

The other day (I confess I’m a bit behind with watching) Sherlock used the word “quisling.” The guy he was talking to didn’t blink—obviously, he belonged the quisling-is-part-of-my-vocabulary cohort of the population. I guess it’s just me and my husband who have been under-educated.

Every time this happens I am a little annoyed. It’s nothing but envy really; I’d love to be able to string sentences together like Sherlock. Still, the question remained: what on earth is a quisling? Turns out, it’s not something you want to be called.

Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian politician, who founded the fascist party in Norway in 1933. He was the prime minister of a pro-Nazi government from 1942-1945. After the war, he was sentenced to death for high treason, amongst other charges. A quisling therefore, is a traitor—a collaborator with the enemy.

“Quisling” is an eponym: a person, thing or place after whom/which something is named. Our language has many of them. If you’re lucky, and you invented something cool, your name may live on forever. Like the Diesel engine, the Jacuzzi, a leotard, or pasteurization.

Back in the day, a physician could describe some terrible affliction and lend his/her name to it. Like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. Even though these people did important work, it’s not the most pleasant way to be remembered. When you’re suffering from a bout of salmonella, you won’t be interested in knowing it was named after a vet called Dr. Salmon. Actually, according to Wikipedia it was his assistant who discovered the bacteria, but Smithella doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

I couldn’t find many examples of words like “quisling” – where the name itself becomes the type of person you’re referring to. (And to answer your question, yes, I actually waste time thinking about stuff like this…). One can be a Don Juan, or a Casanova—or a Sherlock for that matter. It must be pretty awesome to have written a book that’s so well-known, one of your characters becomes the eponym. Like Jekyll and Hyde, or a Scrooge. We refer to an Odyssey, a Faustian bargain, or Big Brother, and even though we may not have read the books in question, the meaning of the words is ingrained in our language.

Not many writers will accomplish this, but don’t let that keep you from trying. Your next literary work could provide us with a new addition to our language—and as a writer, I think there are very few things as cool as that!

 

 

 

Slaying the Dragon

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. Stuff happened. More accurately: Shingles happened.

Shingles gets its own capital S. Why? Because Shingles sucks. Big time. Are there worse things than getting Shingles? Absolutely. But still, it was a miserable affair.

For those of you who haven’t made their acquaintance with Shingles, let me introduce you. It’s a reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. After one recovers from the chickenpox, usually sometime during childhood, the virus does not die as one would expect. Instead, it takes a long, nice, quiet vacation somewhere within nerve tissue near the spinal cord, while we continue life, blissfully unaware of its presence.

That is, until it decides the holidays are over. Pox, apparently, is an old medieval term for curse. Ha! Well put. During a period of poor resilience the lurking virus pops up like an evil jack-in-the box, travels along a nerve to the skin and produces a localized, nasty rash, as well as a tremendous amount of pain.

I never thought about Shingles before it slithered its way in—or rather—out. Why would I? I haven’t reached the age when they start offering vaccination for it. Surely young people don’t get it, right? Wrong, unfortunately.

The chickenpox virus is a member of the Herpes family—the medical term for Shingles is Herpes Zoster.
Zoster is derived from Greek, meaning “girdle” or “belt”. Shingles’ rash looks like a belt when it’s located on the torso, as it wraps around one side. The English word “Shingles” most likely comes from the Latin word  for “girdle,” which is “cingulus.” It has nothing to do with the roof of your house. Even though my six-year old kept asking me why the roof was making me sick.

Yes, why indeed? Not the roof, but why did I get Shingles? I did not feel like I was overly stressed. Yes, I was possibly chronically sleep deprived and I had just recovered from a cold, but that was not anything I hadn’t handled before. Be that as it may, the Shingles hit me hard. Sitting in the doctor’s office, my rash solicited the empathetic “Oh my, I haven’t seen it this bad in quite some time!” which no patient wants to hear ever, although I appreciated the frankness of it. It sure validated my intense discomfort. Shingles, as I discovered, can be extremely painful.

I had some time on my hands to think about this pain—that is, after I slept for a week. It’s quite amazing how many different qualities pain can have. As it turns out, Shingles is an absolute treasure trove for descriptive writing. It felt like a dragon had lodged itself in my liver, where it strangled me with its tail, while simultaneously breathing fire and stabbing me with its nails.

Shingles’ pain is relentless and exhausting, even after the skin has healed, and because it’s nerve pain, it doesn’t respond well to normal pain medication. There is something about chronic pain and having to grit your teeth the whole day. Let’s just say I was not easy to be around with. At some point the healed skin started to itch terribly as well, and upon scratching it would erupt in flames, so it was either pain, itch, or burn, or all of the above. Next time I am contemplating killing off an unlikable character in one of my books, I may just consider giving him/her Shingles instead.

So, what did I do? There’s not much you can do unfortunately. I took my anti-virals. I rested and wallowed in my misery. And I hoped it would go away—which is not a given. For some people the post-herpetic nerve pain can last a long time. I was reluctant to take any medication other than Tylenol or Ibuprofen, so I finally opted for some acupuncture. Whether it was this or just the natural course of the illness, I’ll never know, but after weeks, the pain did slowly improve. Now, three moths later, it’s more like background noise: annoying at times, but ignorable.

During all this, my website languished, as did my Facebook page. I worked on my work-in-progress, but only when I felt up to it. In the summer we took a long vacation and I focused mainly on family time, resting and maintaining a healthy life-style.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am the dragon is on its way out.  Slowly withering away, it still softly claws at me every now and then, but hopefully soon it will take its last breath.  And I pray it has not created any offspring to come back and find me; one visit was more than enough.

Think Spring

Think Spring

That’s what I told myself as my kids had a snow day earlier this week. But it’s not easy when you look outside, and everything is white.

“Think spring,” I said, when I took the trash can down the driveway two nights ago and had to lug it through inches of icy slush. And why not? Obviously, my plowing service is thinking it’s spring as well.

“Think spring,” I tell my children, when they complain of still having to bring their snow pants to school mid-April. They are sick of winter. And frankly, so am I.

I have relatives in the Netherlands raving about their beautiful tulips and their magnolia trees bursting with blossom. Instead, my daffodils still have to find their way up. I don’t blame the poor flowers; if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t want to come out either.

The birds in my yard have been out of sorts. Most have now returned for—yes, spring—but building a nest in this weather must be an uncomfortable task. My dog is miserable. She freezes her paws off, as well as her you-know-what, every time she has to go pee. We are all done with winter, yet it keeps lingering, like that unwanted guest you so desperately want to leave your house but can’t get rid of.

But yesterday, the most amazing thing happened. The sun came out, the temperature hit a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, snow started melting, and despite the unfortunate hailstorm shortly after that, I am pretty certain that finally, spring is starting. Why? Because I looked at the calendar (it is mid-April…) and at the weather forecast. It’s coming. And those few sunny hours reminded me that soon, my children will want to go outside again.

There’s only one problem; I am writing the next book in The Dunnhill Series, and it’s set in…right, winter. And even though I am so done with the cold and snow, I still have to write about it.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided that winter would be the right season for book 3. Maybe because when I started writing, it was winter, and I wasn’t yet sick of it. Besides, Dunnhill is in the mountains, and winter in the mountains is much better than winter in Michigan. And maybe I imagined I would write faster and be done by now, but with three antsy children—let’s just say it’s not going as fast as I hoped.

You could argue that as a writer the season within a book shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Just “think winter” right? Normally I would agree, but here in Michigan, when spring finally arrives, something strange happens. Suddenly there’s flowers everywhere, as spring rushes like mad into summer—lush, green and warm—it truly is glorious. And during that time, the idea of winter becomes like a whiff of smoke, elusive and fleeting. The moment the weather warms up, most of us Michiganders seem to get hit with collective amnesia and forget about winter. If we’d remembered, we’d all leave this state for good.

This is why I need winter. You know—to hold on to what winter really feels like. My lawn is turning green and I am already starting to forget. The truth is, I have no desire to remember. I am ready for spring. Book or not.

Over the next few months, I’ll try my best to think winter while sitting on my deck, enjoying the sun and the only thing cold will be my drink. But if spring in my book happens to arrive a little early, I hope you will understand.

Quills and Pencils

I love writing. Modern technology, and specifically the DELETE-key are good friends of mine. My writing process involves a lot of delete-rewrite-delete-rewrite. Can you imagine writing four hundred years ago—without that DELETE-key? So, no complaining here, we have it easy.

I assume Shakespeare used a quill. Quills were often made from the wing feathers of a big bird, like a goose. I suppose you didn’t have to wrestle one for it, but still. Then you had to prepare the quill, after which you could write with it after dipping it in ink. The metal dip pen, which replaced the quill, made an entrance in the nineteenth century. It didn’t require sharpening, or chasing a goose, but you still had to dip.

So, which ink would you use? The most popular one was something called “iron gall ink”, which, to me, sounds quite unappealing, since it reminds me of a gall bladder.  It actually has nothing to do with that. The oak gall, or oak apple, is an 1-2 inch “apple” on an oak leaf that arises from the secretions of the tree reacting to the gall wasp larva, after the wasp lays an egg in the leaf bud. Apparently, the gall contains tannic acid, which you can extract by crushing and soaking the dried galls. After you strain the extract, you add some ferrous sulfate and voilá, you have ink. Quite honestly, I am still baffled someone thought this one up—making ink from oak galls?

Roald Dahl, whose books I am extremely fond of, wrote (and rewrote) many of them with a pencil. I can feel my hand cramping up just at the thought of it.

Speaking of pencils, for the past two years I had to buy pencil lead for my son’s school supplies, which always left me a little confused as to why it’s called “lead.” It never made sense to me, since it’s obviously made out of graphite.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a nerd, but I like to know where words come from. Apparently, after discovering a large graphite deposit in England around 1500 AD, people first thought it was a form of lead. They noticed the lead, or “black lead” as they called it, was excellent material to write with. The wooden holder was invented, because graphite is rather soft and brittle. The name “graphite” wasn’t given until 1879, and comes from the Greek “graphein” — to write.

The pencil, if you are dying to know, comes from the Latin word “penis” (which means tail) or more precisely, the diminutive “peniculus,” which referred to the artist’s fine brush of camel hair. I don’t think I will ever look at a pencil the same way. Or a tail for that matter.

Obviously, being a writer in current times is great. I think I will return to my laptop and delete-rewrite some more words…

Keep checking in for more upcoming book news, or follow me on Facebook!

Changing The World—A Book at a Time

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

Recently, it was Banned Books Week. Books get banned for many reasons: religious concerns, too much sex, the wrong kind of sex, too much violence, or just the language the writer uses.

As a parent, I don’t let my children read every book that is out there for them. They are still young, so I can control what they read—for now. Some books may be age appropriate, but just not “my child appropriate.” If I deem a story too scary, or think they may not fully grasp the content, I will put it aside for another time. Obviously, this is not the same as “banning,” where I would make the decision for my child that a certain book is not appropriate, ever.

I believe that fictional stories will help children to better understand the world we live in. Our (global) society, has a broad variety of people, with many differences in backgrounds, lifestyles, and convictions. But without exposure, how are we to understand one another and find common ground?

Books can do so much more than just take the reader along to faraway place, a beautiful romance or heartbreaking tale. Books can increase knowledge, stimulate the imagination, and transport the reader into another person’s mind. Reading can force us to walk in the protagonist’s—or for that matter, the antagonist’s—shoes, albeit for a limited time. This can make us love the book, or resent it, but whatever the outcome, it will hopefully stimulate some understanding or empathy, and perhaps help us form more nuanced opinions. A book can unveil and challenge our prejudices, and make us reconsider them.

Obviously, books can have the opposite message as well, like one of hatred, or intolerance. History has shown us the power of propaganda. Nevertheless, I believe reading stimulates the ability of critical thinking—that is, if we dare to reach outside our own bubble.

As a writer, I must confess I write mostly to entertain. That by itself is hard enough, without having to aspire to more lofty goals. But the notion that books can change the world is a powerful one.

Writing can be difficult—even frustrating— demanding a lot of effort, and sometimes offering little in return. But, despite all this, keep on writing. Your story can do so much more than you realize. It can break down barriers.

Author Interview – Melissa Burovac

Meet Melissa Burovac, a writer living in Hawaii. She has published two books so far, and I read her second book, Sylvie Writes a Romance, which I took with me on vacation. There were many things I liked about this book. It’s light—nothing too heavy—I read it on the beach, and it left me with a smile on my face. The lead character, Sylvie, is funny and brave: a woman in her forties who’s trying out the online dating scene, which leads to all sorts of awkward moments. But…she is resourceful and not afraid of discovering new things. Be careful though, it really made me want to go to Hawaii (without the dating though).

Aloha Melissa! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a writer and photographer on Kauai, Hawaii. An avid outdoors woman, I enjoy outrigger paddling—both one-man and six-man—SUP, running, surfing, sailing, and scuba diving, as well as yoga. I’m always up for adventure and loves doing things that scare me a little. My days are divided into two sections – mornings are in the ocean looking for wildlife to photograph, usually by swimming out with my Nikon and watching for animals to swim by; the afternoons are spent writing short stories or working on the two novels I have in progress. My entire life was interrupted in July when I adopted a rescue puppy, Lucy, who is far too cute to ignore when she wants to play; I am training her to be an ocean dog and my photo assistant, and eventually she’ll be independent enough to allow me to get more work done.

Why did you start writing a novel/how did you get your inspiration to write?

I began blogging when I did a round the world solo trip, mostly to reassure my mother that I didn’t die in some horrific accident somewhere in the world. I got great feedback from my blog, mostly from women who couldn’t believe I spent nearly a year on my own, and several mentioned I should write a book. From childhood I’d written short stories and had dreams of writing books but just never got around to it, so I decided I’d give it a real try; I had much of the material written in my blog, with all the detail of my day-to-day travel written daily on the road, so I spent the time to make it a coherent story and self-published my first book – Wandering – published in 2014. I was so pleased at writing a book and started a second shortly after – Sylvie Writes a Romance – a romcom published in 2016.

What is the hardest thing about the writing process for you?

The hardest part of my writing process is sitting down to get it done. I dream of stories all the time, but allow my life to get in the way too much. Scheduling writing time is essential for me.

Your first book is about your travels. Where did you go? Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

 My first book, Wandering, is the day-to-day account of my life on a solo RTW trip. I detail everything, from the adventures to the mundane to the anxiety of travel and meeting new people. I am not a great traveler, being directionally challenged and full of social anxiety, but waiting for a partner to travel with me was not working and I wanted to see more of the world. Some parts of the book are exciting with crazy excursions I took while other parts show the loneliness of spending so much time solo. I travelled to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia and Tasmania, Cambodia, and Thailand. I made many new friends, found some old friends, went scuba diving in all but Cambodia, and drank a little too much trying to escape my fears.

Your second book is a romcom. This is very different from the first. Is it in any way auto-biographic? Why did you change genres?

 I wrote a romcom, Sylvie Writes a Romance, because of an idea I had while reading an article about female romance writers. I wanted to be a full-time writer, but my first book wasn’t selling enough to quit my day job (and I hadn’t started a photography company yet). The article was about a few writers who made several thousand dollars each month from mass market romance novels, and I thought I would give that a try, make some money, then go back to writing books more my style (and I have yet to figure out exactly what my style is…). After a few tries at writing a romance I gave up, they were awful. And the idea of writing about a writer trying to write a romance novel was born. The book is autobiographical in that it is about a writer, but her methods of going about her writing – using online dating to learn about romance – is fiction.

Are you working on a third?

 I have two additional books in various stages of progress. One is a sequel to Sylvie Writes a Romance, and the bulk of it was written during NaNoWriMo 2016; I had just ended a relationship and wasn’t in a great mental space, and used the writing challenge to take my mind off my sorrows. The result was a full-length novel which was just a little too depressing – I write a lot of comedy – and I’m currently trying to untangle the story from my emotions at the time. The second book is a biography of a smuggler on Kauai. I have been conducting interviews with him for nearly a year, but progress is slow both because I have never written a biography and have spent a lot of time reading, and also because he is so fun we end up drinking a little too much on his boat during our “talk story” time.

What has made the deepest impression on you while traveling?

My deepest impression from traveling is the kindness of people all over the world. If we all simply stayed at home and read news stories we might think evil things about every other culture – but the fact is most people are well-meaning, helpful, and just as wonderful as our friends; plus they have so much to teach us about their histories and ways of life. In my nine months of travel I met very few individuals who had bad intentions, and none of them as violent as my mother imagined. I truly enjoyed the people I met in every country.

Thank you Melissa!

 
You can reach Melissa on her website, Facebook and Twitter.  Her books Wandering and Sylvie Writes a Romance are available on Amazon. You can also check out her photography company.

Author Interview – Amy Vansant

Get ready for Amy Vansant, who I got to know after reading Pineapple Lies, the first book in The Pineapple Port Series. In Pineapple Lies, Charlotte, a young woman living in a retirement community in Florida, discovers a—eek!— body hidden in her back yard. But…Who is the deceased? And who in the community is the killer? A fun read all over, despite the dead body. The dialogues are strong, fast and often hilarious. I could easily picture the ‘older’ people in the retirement community, especially Mariska and Darla, each with their own quirks. If you are looking for an entertaining book this summer that will put a smile on your face, this is it.

Welcome Amy. Can you tell us a little about yourself. (And why does your website describe you as a “delusionist?”)

My writing bio wanders a bit…

  1. I was a freelance writer in high school and college. Also quietly worked on novels that were really terrible.
  2. I sent an article to Surfer about colleges near waves and they bought it.
  3. A week later their east coast editor quit and I think I was the only east coast writer they knew. They asked if I wanted to be east coast editor and I just about fell over with happiness.
  4. I did that along with freelancing for five years or so, and then I started to do graphic design for some extra money.
  5. I sent a novel to a publisher who loved the first three chapters and asked for the rest. I hadn’t written it. So I rushed through it and lost my opportunity.
  6. Started doing web design (again to support my writing “career”, started a company, and then quit writing for about thirteen years like an idiot.
  7. Then in 2010 I had literally had a dream that would turn into my novel Angeli.
  8. I started blogging to get used to writing again and all of a sudden I remembered I was supposed to be writing.
  9. For the blog I went back to humor, which is what I’d always liked to write best. After Angeli was finally done, I decided it was time to do straight humor and wrote Slightly Stalky.

Then I just kept writing!

As for “delusionist” – That’s sort of an inside joke with my husband.  I’m so overly optimistic about everything he jokes that I’m delusional.  He says I’m not allowed to be excited about how many books I’ve sold until I’ve sold as many as Stephen King, so it will be a while…

Where or how do you get your inspiration to write?

I was “born” with the general inspiration. As for specific ideas, things will just grab me and I’ll feel the need to write them.

Do you have a specific writing routine?

I write about an hour or two a day if at all possible…sometimes life intervenes!

What is the hardest thing about the writing process for you?

Plots, probably. The characters literally talk in my head, and I just write down what they’re saying, so that part comes easy. The problem comes when they’ve run out of funny things to say and look at me as if to say “What now?” and I don’t know! Then sometimes I have to take off a day or two and chew on what comes next and how it all wraps up in the end.

Do you have any advice for other Indie authors?

Do things right. Don’t throw books together with no editing and cobbled together covers because you can’t afford it or can’t wait any longer. You’ll just end up with bad reviews or no sales. Take some time, bounce things off other people, save up. Join Facebook groups with experienced Indies and learn from them. Don’t think you know it all…ever. And don’t throw money at every promotional opportunity that rolls down the pike — there are a LOT of people out there trying to rip you off.

The Pineapple Port series are cozy mysteries. You have branched out to different genres. Why do you like to cross genres? What can you tell us about your other books?

I get ideas I really want to explore and if they don’t fit a series, I need to start a new one. It’s been a good way to find what genres sell better than others too. Angeli (3) was my first (urban fantasy), then Slightly Stalky (that’s autobiographical so that had to come out), Pineapple (4), a middle grade book (The Magicatory) I wrote for my nieces, and then finally the latest series is Kilty as Charged (2) – a highlander time-travel romance thriller. That happened because I realized I liked writing mysteries like Pineapple, but I wanted a series that could have a little more edge.

If you could choose a character from Pineapple Port, who would you want as a neighbor and why?

Mariska is my mother-in-law, so I have to say her or she’ll kill me. 🙂

What can you tell us about your upcoming Pineapple Port mystery?

The group goes traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and gets trapped in a house full of body bits! I’m about 70% done.

Which country have you not been to yet that you want to visit and why?

I think I need to go to Ireland. All the men in my books end up Irish! I had a crush on Pierce Brosnan when I was a teen, so I guess I’ve always had a thing for Celtic men. Ha! In fact, my husband, who thought he was mostly Polish, took a DNA test and it turned out he was mostly Irish! I must have known it before him!

Thank you Amy, for your time! I look forward to reading the other books in the Pineapple Port Series.

If you sign up for her newsletter on her website, Amy will give you a copy (ebook) of Pineapple Lies for free!

Check out Amy’s books on Amazon, or follow her on Goodreads, Facebook or Twitter.

Author Interview – Jennifer S. Alderson

JenniferSAldersonAuthorPhoto_TwitterFor my first author interview, I am featuring Jennifer S. Alderson. I reached out to Jennifer after reading her second book The Lover’s Portrait (check out my review in the section “On Books”), which was a great read and I highly recommend.

Jennifer, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me, Lucia! I’m a long-time expat, an American who’s been living in the Netherlands since 2004. I am also the author of two novels, Down and Out in Kathmandu: Adventures in Backpacking and The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, as well as my new travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand.

In America I worked as a journalist and multimedia developer until massive burnout lead me to quit my job, buy a backpack and head off to Nepal as a volunteer English teacher for three months.

After several years on the road, I moved to the Netherlands to study art history and never left. After completing degrees in art history and museum studies, I worked for several museums before the economy crashed and the cultural sector imploded.

While applying for jobs, I wrote my first novel as a way of keeping my mind occupied. Writing about my adventures in Nepal and Thailand also helped curtail my wanderlust. I finished it between contracts, but never pursued publication.

After my son was born, I had the luxury of staying home to raise him. Writing became a way to connect with ‘grownup’ life and use the knowledge I’d gained during my studies. The Lover’s Portrait was so well-received by everyone who read it, I decided to publish both of my books and see what happened. I’ve been absolutely blown away by the overwhelmingly positive reception so far.

What is the hardest thing about the writing process for you?

The most difficult part about writing a mystery for me is creating a ‘secret’ worthy of being kept and working out the motivation of all of the parties involved. There has got to be a compelling reason for one person or group to want the object or information in question to remain hidden, but also an important reason for another party to want to locate or reveal it. The next step is figuring out how my series’ heroine fits into it all!

Why do you feel this is your genre? Could you branch out?

Mystery, travel, adventure and thrillers are the genres my books fall into. I love to travel and mysteries have always been my favorite genre as a reader. When I set out to write my first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu, combining the two came naturally.

In my second novel, The Lover’s Portrait, and current work-in-progress, The Anthropologist, I branched out to include aspects of historical fiction. This was incredibly difficult for me because, aside from Philip Kerr, I had read very little of the genre and was not sure how much historical detail I should include.

After reading several popular historical fiction books, I felt like I had a grasp of the genre’s expectations and the level of detail expected. Only then did I feel confident enough to add in to The Lover’s Portrait several historical chapters centered around the character Arjan van Heemsvliet, an art dealer in Amsterdam in the 1940s.

The Anthropologist is more thriller than mystery, which is a challenge for me to add in more action and increase the story’s pace, in comparison with my first two novels. We will see how it all works out in a few months.

Your first novel takes place in Nepal. Did you stay there for a long time to get to know the place?

I volunteered as an English teacher in Kathmandu for three months and then spent another three backpacking around Nepal and Thailand. During my ‘volunteer and cultural experience programme’, I learned quite a bit about the cultural and ethnic diversity of Nepal and visited many important temples and holy sites with my volunteer group.

An important side story in Down and Out in Kathmandu takes place in several cities in Thailand I visited. Without having traveled through both countries, I would not have dared to describe either in the detail which I have done in my debut novel.

Your second novel takes place in Amsterdam, where you live now. Is it in any way auto-biographic?

My protagonist’s professional background and academic experience s are largely autobiographical. We both studied art history and museum studies at the University of Amsterdam and interned at the Amsterdam Museum. Unlike Zelda, I spent my time researching the connections between a ceramic and book collection, an assignment which had absolutely nothing to do with the restitution of art or World War Two.

But that is where the similarities between Zelda and I end. In many ways, she gets to do what I wanted to do. While the jobs dried up in the cultural sector before I could work my way up the professional ladder, Zelda is able to conduct the kinds of research and work on the kinds of projects I hoped to. It is fun to live vicariously through her and write about what ‘could have been’.

What can you tell us about your third and upcoming novel?

The third novel in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series, working title The Anthropologist, is set in Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, an anthropologic and ethnographic museum, as well as Papua New Guinea, a country I have never been to. It is an art-mystery-thriller about Asmat bis poles, missionaries and anthropologists.

The storyline was conceived during my time as a collection researcher at the Tropenmuseum while working on a fascinating exhibition of Asmat bis poles held in Dutch museum collections. While searching through photographs and film fragments of Asmat tribes, missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea during the 1930s through 1960s, I discovered that a well-known Dutch missionary – Reverend Gerald Zegwaard – was one of the last people to see Michael Rockefeller alive. During their meeting they’d made an appointment to meet again after Rockefeller returned from an acquisition trip upriver. The young American disappeared days later, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of our time. That little detail about his un-kept appointment with Reverend Zegwaard stuck with me and eventually inspired this novel.

I only dared to write about Papua New Guinea because all of the chapters which take place there are set in the 1950s and 1960s. Because the country has changed so much since then, I relied on film footage and travel journals as the basis for my descriptions of the villages, landscape and people.

Which country have you not been to yet that you want to visit?

Kenya is a country I have wanted to visit for quite a while. While at the Tropenmuseum, I worked on a historical photography project in conjunction with the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya. Archival research was also part of this assignment. It is a fascinating land with diverse cultures and a turbulent history.

Thanks so much Jennifer, for your time. I look forward to reading your third novel!

Here you can find Jennifer’s website, her Amazon Author Page or follow her on Goodreads or Facebook. And definitely check out her books!

Women in Literature

Last month was Women’s History Month. I am a woman, so I wanted to give some thought to the status of women in literature. And their struggles.

In the past, a female author faced serious obstacles. Women’s rights were practically non-existent in the 18th-19th century, the time of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. A woman belonged to her husband, and so did her property or inheritance, as well as their children.

Back then, it was generally frowned upon that women wrote books. Jane Austen published anonymously, under the name “A Lady.” The Brontë Sisters—Charlotte, Emily and Anne—wrote under their masculine pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë explained this as follows:

“Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called “feminine” – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice…” (from Wikipedia)

Taking a male pen name was not unusual. Mary Anne Evans published under George Elliot, because she wanted to be taken seriously. George Sand, was in fact Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. Louisa May Alcott from Little Women wrote under A. M. Barnard.

Times do change, albeit slowly. Women voting rights here in the U.S were only granted in 1920. And what about that gender pay gap…?

There are still plenty of places around the world where women’s voices are repressed and should be heard. At least, here in the western world, the situation for women has improved over time. Nonetheless, when taking a closer look at how women authors here are appreciated, we are still not equal to men.

For instance, when it comes to big awards, women are lagging—for some awards more than others. The Pulitzer prize in Fiction was awarded to six women in the last twenty years. The Nobel Prize in Literature in the same time frame yields the same number. That’s only 30%. More interestingly even, as Nicola Griffith pointed out, of the women who won the Pulitzer Prize from 2000-2014, three had written a book from a predominantly male character’s perspective. As did the male writers who won the Pulitzer in the same period. And none of the books had a predominantly female perspective.

J.K. Rowling was told by her publisher to use her initials instead of her name, because it would do better with the boys, since Harry Potter is—well—a boy. It would be interesting to see if the Harry Potter series did less well with girls; I for one doubt it.

In 2015, Catherine Nichols, an American author, sent out six queries for her new novel under a male name; the result was five answers within 24 hours: three requests for the manuscript and two rejections. The previous fifty queries she had sent out under her real name, had received only two requests for the manuscript. She increased her queries under the male name to fifty, and the manuscript was requested seventeen times. Now, this may not be a completely valid scientific experiment, since she probably sent her queries to different agents, but taken together with the above, it’s not exactly encouraging either. Her male counterpart was received better, even though the book was the same.

I wonder though, if all this has less to do with the quality of writing or more with the persistent, though silent, perception within our culture—still—that men write better. Or for that matter, that a book written from a male perspective sells better—to both men and women. I caught myself in the library the other day, picking out books for my kids, actually debating whether the book I was holding would be too girly for my son, the main character in the book being a girl. But, and this is the crux, would I have asked myself that question if I’d picked out a book for my daughter and the main character was a boy? I doubt it. Now, I try to raise my children without gender bias, so why would I make that distinction?

Maybe it would be good for men to immerse themselves more in the female world, and read books from a female perspective. We, as women, seem to have no problem with reading books from theirs.

Next time I go to the library, I’ll keep that one in mind.

Finally…

Finally, winter has arrived in Michigan (ugh), finally, my website is—sort of—ready (read: work in progress) and finally, the sequel to “The Baby on the Back Porch” has been delivered to the editor. It always surprises me how much time writing a story takes, after writing it.

First, there’s editing by myself, then my beta-readers read it and give me feedback (thank you, lovely ladies!), after which there will be more editing, and then maybe it’s ready for the actual editor to take a look. But of course, I am not her only client, so chances are there is some more waiting involved. And after that, you guessed it, there’s probably more editing.

If I was more organized, I would have had my cover ready to go by now, so I would at least have something to show you. Unfortunately, I am still  on the fence about the title of the sequel…and it’s hard to have a cover without a title. Decisions, decisions.

So what can I tell you? Well, Sara returns to Dunnhill, but things don’t work out quite as she hoped. We all know they rarely do. For one thing, an old girlfriend of David’s decides to come back to Dunnhill as well. And if that wasn’t the only problem, Sara remains a magnet for disturbing experiences that demand her attention. Again, she will try to solve a mystery, but will she succeed in giving the story a happy ending? You will have to read the novella to find out! I will keep everyone posted on the release date. 🙂

One last word on the website. I hope you’ll like it. It’s been a long process, with a lot of cursing and yelling at my laptop. I can type, but I am not very tech-savy. Feel free to give me suggestions by leaving a comment or contact me on my contact page, if you have questions or think of something on how to make it better. Just FYI, not every page has content yet, but the plan is to fill up those spaces as I go along!

If you want to keep up to date with my postings, like me on Facebook, follow this blog, or sign up for the newsletter by email. Your support is appreciated!